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BC Libs cleaned up on liquor loot: records

The list of industry stakeholders that B.C. liquor policy reviewer John Yap met behind closed doors over two months reads like a who's-who of BC Liberal friends and donors. The government is currently releasing the results of its provincial liquor law review in slow dribbles, with the full report expected to be published in early 2014.

According to a Tyee comparison with Elections BC records, the lobbyists and executives directly or indirectly represented more than $2.26 million in combined donations since 2005 to the province's ruling party.

Budweiser-sponsored Rogers Arena is the province's biggest indoor licensed establishment. The Vancouver Canucks' home is owned by the Aquilini family, who put $888,495 into Liberal coffers since 2005 from a variety of their companies. Yap met Oct. 2 with Canucks Sports and Entertainment executives Victor de Bonis and Michael Doyle.

On the same day, Yap met with the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C. past president Dave Crown, whose name is on $105,477 of donations from ABLE BC and his own Queen's Cross pub in North Vancouver. ABLE executive director Ian Baillie, who was also at the meeting, gave $920 to the Liberals, $600 of which on June 30, 2013.

Stephen Harris is the Private Liquor Store Association of B.C. executive director. The former BC Liberal caucus communications director's name appears in the Elections BC database for $1,425 of donations from 2010 to 2012. He also met Yap on Oct. 17.

Barinder Sall was Kash Heed's Vancouver-Fraserview campaign manager in 2009. Heed became solicitor general and Sall was fined $15,000 for Elections BC spending violations. Sall's $845 donated in 2006 pales in comparison to that of his employer, Mark Anthony Brands. Anthony von Mandl's Mike's Hard Lemonade, Stanley Park Brewing and Mission Hill wine company poured $172,592.72 into the Liberals since 2005.

Josie Tyabji -- sister-in-law of October-appointed liquified natural gas salesman Gordon Wilson -- met twice with Yap, once wearing her B.C. Wine Institute hat and the other for Constellation Brands. Those companies sent $15,913 to the Liberals.

Ben Stewart sacrificed his Westside-Kelowna seat for Premier Christy Clark and was rewarded as B.C.'s envoy to Beijing. He isn't on the list of Yap meetings, but his brother Tony Stewart is. Their family's Quail's Gate Winery donated $9,879.29 from 2007 to 2011. At an Oct. 28 meeting representing the B.C. Wine Institute, Tony Stewart was accompanied by CedarCreek's Gordon Fitzpatrick, a $1,600 Liberal donor who is the son of retired Liberal Senator Ross Fitzpatrick.

Association of Canadian Distillers' lobbyist Lorne Valensky was involved in the spirits industry's Sept. 30 meeting. Valensky's Strategies West firm donated $38,949.75 since 2005. On the same day, B.C. Craft Brewers' Guild lobbyist Craig Jangula introduced Yap to microbrewers. Jangula was executive assistant to former Olympic and Children and Family Development minister Mary McNeil and donated $505 in 2010.

Representatives of national brewers Sleeman ($16,446), Molson ($79,083.25) and Labatt ($81,616.20) met Yap Oct. 10, 11 and 21, respectively. But the biggest benefactor of beer bucks for the Liberals is Pacific Western Brewing Company owner Kazuko Komatsu, who has donated $155,082.60 and met Oct. 10.

B.C.'s biggest private liquor warehouse is ContainerWorld in East Richmond. CEO Dennis Chrismas and his lobbyist Michael Bailey met Yap on Oct. 17 and also gave him a tour of the facility on Oct. 31. The Richmond company donated $44,061 to the Liberals and $2,000 to the NDP.

Cactus Club (Sept. 24 meeting) donated $10,000 to the NDP six days before the election. The premium casual restaurant chain had previously donated $3,300 to the Liberals. Its founder Richard Jaffray gave the Liberals $4,500 in 2012 and co-chaired Clark's annual fundraising dinner in April.

Cactus Club is a spinoff of Earls Restaurants (Sept. 24), whose president Stan Fuller donated $101,624 to the Liberals since 2005. Son Jeff Fuller contributed $7,500 from across six Joey Restaurants (Oct. 21) locations a week after the election.

Canadian Restaurant and Foodservice Association lobbyist Mark von Schellwitz (Sept. 23) gave the Liberals $6,284 since 2005 and his association paid $5,000 to be at the June 7 cabinet naming ceremony at Canada Place. John Aisenstat of Hy's Restaurants ($12,604 for the Liberals since 2005) also attended the meeting.

Like the CRFA, the B.C. Hotel Association paid $5,000 to sponsor the cabinet event after donating $17,950 to the NDP between December 2012 and May 2013. BCHA historical donations to the Liberals since 2005 total $53,576. CEO James Chase met with Yap on Oct. 2.

Former BC Hydro CEO and VANOC deputy CEO Dave Cobb co-represented Jim Pattison Group's Everything Wine chain (Oct. 22). Pattison companies have donated $340,240 to the Liberals (and $500 to the NDP). 7-Eleven (Oct. 31) was one of Yap's last appointments. The convenience store chain was represented by lobbyists Victor Vrsnik ($1,760) and Jess Ketchum, who has been involved in $77,503 in donations from Great Canadian Railtours and his own firm.

On the final day, Yap also met with Donnelly Hospitality ($15,500) and Loblaw ($25,980).

There was no meeting listed for Liquor Stores GP, an Edmonton-based private liquor store chain. Liquor Stores GP donated $155,052 to the Liberals since 2005 and sent the NDP $5,000 last spring. It resumed Liberal donations on July 8 with a $15,000 payment.

Ex-assistant deputy minister and Clark pollster Dimitri Pantazopoulos registered Oct. 8 to lobby Yap and Attorney General Suzanne Anton for the company. The registration said it wants to create "a system that serves government and public needs while taking into consideration the significant investments that have been made by the private sector."

The liquor industry has a habit of filling the Liberal hat when it is passed. This May, Bill Tieleman and Jeremy Nuttall reported that the party raised $302,500 on March 24, 2010 alone when then-premier Gordon Campbell and then-liquor minister Rich Coleman hosted an event at Vancouver's posh Gotham Steakhouse.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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